Help me with my professor problem
May 24, 2007 9:32 PM   Subscribe

How do I make sure my professor doesn't hate me?

I've had a rough time in one of my classes this term. I turned in the first assigned essay nearly two weeks late, after repeatedly breaking deadlines I set for myself in conversations with the professor. I've also failed to turn in two small (one-paragraph) writing assignments. The professor has repeatedly told me that I need to increase my participation during in-class discussions. I've missed class both of the last two Thursdays. Most recently, I missed class on the first class meeting after she chastised me for not picking up a reading distributed during a class meeting I missed, and told me I must be prepared to discuss the reading and answer questions in the next class meeting. The one I missed.

The thing is, I'm not a slacker. When I roll over in bed and see that class has ended and I've slept through it, I'm immediately on the verge of tears. It completely ruins my day. I don't want to miss class, and I definitely didn't want to screw up my grade. Problem is, my clinical depression makes it exceedingly difficult to wake up in the morning. I don't have the energy, and I often sleep straight through the three alarms I've set for myself. I don't participate in class as often as I'd like to because my severe social anxiety is a significant barrier to speaking up, especially in a class this small (less than 10 students). I'm working on all of this with a shrink and pills, but it's not an overnight cure.

I'm concerned that my professor will fail me in the class, and also that she thinks I'm just another slacker, when I'm absolutely not. What is the best way to communicate to her the reasons for my piss-poor performance, without making it seem like I'm trying to take all the blame off myself (I'm not)?
posted by anonymous to Education (30 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Get a doctor's note and negotiate for an incomplete or a withdrawal. Take the course when you feel better. Otherwise, you're going to have to do what she's told you. In the meantime, you could tell her the problems and ask what the best way to address the situation is. However, it seems like she's already outlined things for you. So the doctor's note may be your best bet.
posted by acoutu at 9:39 PM on May 24, 2007

I second dropping the course and taking it when you feel better.

Your prof is probably extremely unsympathetic at this point, and may see your depression as an "excuse" to "slack off" even more.

I suggest you explain to her exactly what you said here, and see what happens. If she's open minded, you may be able to come up with a compromise.
posted by BeaverTerror at 9:44 PM on May 24, 2007

It seems like it's pretty late in the semester to be trying to take care of this, hopefully if she does fail you you can take the class again next semester. Just because you feel bad about doesn't mean you're not a slacker (I should know...)
posted by delmoi at 9:46 PM on May 24, 2007

Seconding acoutu, who's got the answer. Professors are people and will generally understand these things, but only if it's explained to them. For something like this, a doctor's note is definitely important to seperate the legitimate cases from those slackers. Also, your professor probably doesn't hate you; most wouldn't take it personally. Still, they have a job to do, and if that involves pushing you, they will.

If the depression is an ongoing thing, you might check on the disability resources available at your college/university. You might be amazed how much they can help. And in general, reducing stress is good for making depression a little less debilitating.
posted by JMOZ at 9:46 PM on May 24, 2007

Agree with acoutu. Also, when you are discussing this with the prof, make it as business-like as possible. You don't need to say how sad you are to miss class etc, because your prof might think you are making an emotional appeal. Profs get this all the time; students beg for grades they haven't earned and try to guilt the prof into helping. What these students often don't realize is that it is the prof's job to assign a fair grade. A sympathy pass undermines the system because it certifies you as competent in a subject you may not be. You have to do the work to get the grade, period.

This does not mean your prof or your school won't show compassion. You are clinically depressed and suffer from social anxiety. THe school has procedures for you to gracefully withdraw without it negatively affecting your transcript. Alternatively, your professor may be willing to give you more time to complete assignments. Perhaps you can work out an alternative to the class discussions which gets around your social anxiety and shows you are able to knowledgably discuss the material - an oral exam, maybe. Present your illness as a barrier impeding your success and approach the discussion as a search for ways around it. Show that you are willing to put in the time and effort, and have been trying, and your prof will respect you for it.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:54 PM on May 24, 2007

I do hate you.

Kidding. I am a professor. Look, we get this all the time. We deal with hundreds of young people a year, and see all kinds of personal problems. We see good people stumble. Often they recover, sometimes they don't. but we never make it personal. Your professor does not hate you.

She does think you are a slacker. But that is the least of your worries. You do not have a professor problem, you have a problem with clinical depression. Are you getting help?

Contact your campus health care center immediately. Tell them what you have told us. In addition to helping you, they will notify your professors that you have been diagnosed with depression. This will have far more standing with your professors than hearing it from you directly.

Good luck. A college student close to me had a depression breakdown a year ago. Two weeks ago I had the great pleasure to hand him his diploma. You can get past this.
posted by LarryC at 9:55 PM on May 24, 2007 [9 favorites]

I've always had trouble getting up in the morning. My workaround for this has been to avoid any classes that start before 9 am (substitue a later time if that works for you).

It's a bit late to work things out with the professor. Slacker or not, you have given the impression of not being able to keep up with the class, because you are not able to do the classwork. College professors generally are not impressed that you are trying to do the work, if the work is not in fact getting done.

You should go for a withdrawal from the class, after discussing with the professor that you think it would not be appropriate to continue the class at this time. Consider whether a class that requires participating in discussions is appropriate for you. If you are considering taking another class with this professor, realize that you may need to overcome the bad impression you have left with her from this class.

She probably doesn't hate you though. I am sure that you are more upset about all this than she is.
posted by yohko at 9:55 PM on May 24, 2007

You say you're working with a shrink, but have you talked to your primary doctor or a psychiatrist? If your depression is disrupting your day-to-day life on such a significant level, I think it's important to realize that there are some really amazing antipdepressants out there, and that they can do wonders for social anxiety & depression. I wouldn't be surprised at all if a doctor put you on Wellbutrin in the morning and some SSRI at night. The Wellbutrin helps people to perk up a bit, and is a good compliment to a lot of the SSRI's out there. And I have to say that a particular SSRI, Celexa, completely changed my life for the better. I felt a lot like you seem to.

If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to e-mail me, e-mail addy is in my profile.

And don't beat yourself up over the course. It's not the end of the world, your professor most likely does not hate you at all (she might think you're a slacker, but aren't *most* college students?). IMHO, your primary concern should be finding a way to get BETTER so you can tackle life's challenges again. I think if your doctor thinks medication is a good idea, it might help get you into a place where you can work on figuring out things with your shrink better, and working on improving your day-to-day life.

Good luck!
posted by tastybrains at 10:06 PM on May 24, 2007

Whether you are labeled as a slacker or someone that's having a rough time with excessive sleep and lack of motivation doesn't really matter. The point is that you are having a problem that is making it impossible for you to take this class right now. Don't worry, it's common. I did it too back in college, and I know precisely that immense fear that comes over you when you realize that you slept through a midterm last week because you weren't able to get up for class and you didn't know the midterm was that week because you hadn't been to class for the 6 weeks prior either. It can really be a painful, intractible situation.

Eventually, starting at some point near the beginning of my junior year, several things happened that caused this to no longer be a problem for me. I got tired of skipping some classes almost habitually and having to try to teach myself the material in a cram session before the final/midterm. So I told myself that I was going to attend every class, no matter what, period. This was helped by the fact that by that point the classes were much more specialized and not generic electives, and my interest level was much higher. I also took charge of my schedule and refused to sign up for classes that I knew would be a problem; you do not take the 8:05 section of the boring elective you don't care about when you're in this state. With these factors in place, attending class became a joy not a tedious challenge, because the reward for showing up every time no matter what was never having any surprises, never having to cram/teach myself material, and being able to actually engage the professor on the intellectual material, i.e. have a dialog in class rather than just showing up and staring.

As far as what to do now, you should just talk with the professor candidly. Tell him/her that the scheduling of the section did not work for you, that you were having emotional problems, and so on. Negotiate for how/when you can retake the class in a subsequent semester.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:33 PM on May 24, 2007

I am a former college teacher, and I am going to third that your professor doesn't hate you--I think many students would be surprised by how entirely not emotionally invested in them their profs are. Your teacher will probably work with you if you approach with a matter-of-fact attitude and a request for a reasonable accommodation. She may not care about the reasons for your piss-poor performance; I mostly never did, partly because of the "students lie" factor and partly because I'm not interested in my students' personal lives.

But I was always willing to do what I could for any student who approached me with a reasonable request that seemed to me they were taking responsibility for themselves. So, not, "I just found out I have to pass this class or I can't play baseball, so, even though I haven't attended in 12 weeks, if I drop off all five papers to you on Monday, will you give me a C?" [actual student request] but, "For various reasons, this semester didn't go well for me. I'm looking forward to starting fresh in a new semester, but in the meantime, I'd really like to not end up with a 0.0 on my report card. Would you be willing to give me a W?"
posted by not that girl at 10:47 PM on May 24, 2007

Sounds like you should withdraw from the course. If the deadline has passed, you can probably still get a medical withdrawal. I had to do that last semester, and though I'm not terribly happy with it, it's better than a fail.

Good luck, and I hope you feel better.
posted by Orrorin at 11:00 PM on May 24, 2007

It seems to me that if I were in your position, I'd take a medical leave of absence. In your current state, you're probably not getting much out of going to school anyway. There's no reason you should be paying tuition if you aren't capable of attending class and doing the work. Too late this semester, but think about it for next semester.

I'm not a teacher/professor, but if I were I'd need a doctor's note from you right about now. There are a lot of kids out there who would totally say they were clinically depressed if they thought they were about to fail a class.
posted by crinklebat at 11:12 PM on May 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Everyone has good advice. You may want to speak to an academic advisor, or the dean of students if you are at a small college. They will be able to walk you through the consequences if you drop a class, help you make arrangements with your profs, etc.

If your semester is almost over, then decide whether you want to try for a very low grade in this class (eg some profs will let you make up work to get a low but passing grade), or just drop it and take it again later (or take other classes entirely). It may be time to accept that this semester is just going to be a wash, and you will focus on getting better, getting a good workable schedule, getting sun and exercise, and being really ready next fall.

Your professor doesn't hate you. And it wouldn't matter if she did. This is not about personally impressing professors. It's about recognizing your own limits, getting the help you need, and then getting into a position where you can meet the requirements of a class.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:12 PM on May 24, 2007

basically what larryc said. you are not the first person with depression this professor has encountered. Discuss the situation with them. Have documentation ready. Then decide whether to withdraw or take an incomplete. Your professor will give you the opportunity to take an incomplete if you explain your illness to them. The important thing to remember is that you have an illness. It is not much different than having a physical illness that would similarly prevent you from completing classwork. Your professor knows this. They just need to be made aware of the situation.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:18 PM on May 24, 2007

IAAP. Your professor doesn't hate you, unless your professor is a real dingbat. If you were my student, I would suggest that you drop or withdraw.

This is likely something that your prof won't need to really be involved in. If you can still withdraw, odds are if you show up with a withdrawal slip, she'll sign it without asking questions. I know I would; the option is open to you and why you might exercise it is none of my business. If it's late enough that you can't withdraw without a dean's approval or similar, then the prof likewise won't enter into it.

Deal with getting well, and make what accommodations you have to in the meantime such as avoiding early morning classes. I'd much rather you show up at my office with a withdrawal slip than get a phone call from the psych ward of the hospital for reasons I don't want to think about.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:29 PM on May 24, 2007

Discuss the situation with them. Have documentation ready. Then decide whether to withdraw or take an incomplete. Your professor will give you the opportunity to take an incomplete if you explain your illness to them.

I'd sign a withdrawal slip, but would resist an incomplete very firmly. An ongoing series of problems from the beginning of the course is not an appropriate use of an incomplete. An incomplete would be appropriate if there were some reason why you couldn't complete the last assignment or two, which isn't the case here. More pragmatically, an incomplete also means essentially running an independent study next semester, which is a real pain in the ass for which I get no credit at all.

Anyhow, the point is that I would not pin my hopes on an incomplete with so much work undone.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:44 PM on May 24, 2007

It seems to me that if I were in your position, I'd take a medical leave of absence. In your current state, you're probably not getting much out of going to school anyway. There's no reason you should be paying tuition if you aren't capable of attending class and doing the work. Too late this semester, but think about it for next semester.

When this was happening to me, the college officials I spoke with (after the college psychiatrist gave me a diagnosis) actually gave me a retroactive medical leave of absence. They wiped my bomb quarter off the record altogether. Which was the first of many good things to come of dealing with this problem, rather than failing due to it.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:08 AM on May 25, 2007

If your professor is anything like me, she will be relieved when you tell her that you have been suffering from depression and social anxiety, because it will explain why you have continually missed all those deadlines you worked out together. It's good that you have been trying to work out solutions with her during the semester. If you were my student, I would definitely recommend that you visit the counsellors/health centre/doctor and get a note of some kind so you can withdraw from the course without penalty. An incomplete at this point, where I teach anyway, would mean that you'd still be on the hook for all the coursework...but it would just be postponed for a month or so, and then that incomplete would roll into a fail. Get your depression and anxiety treated before attempting college again--I don't mean to be harsh, but I have yet to see a student in your situation who was able to instantly fix those problems that were interefering with success in school.

Good luck--it is a very good sign that you are at the point where you recognize that you need help. Let your prof help you by telling her about your situation honestly!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:00 AM on May 25, 2007

i agree with everybody who has encouraged you to hold off on returning to school until you get a handle on your depression. i am a depressive and am currently dealing with my second major episode in five years so i completely sympathise with you and your attempts to have even completed the term at all. if you have a type A personality as i do, it's hard to admit to yourself that you actually can't get things done in the manner to which you are used. of course this is harder when you are in a "real world" situation and trying to deal with it while you are working as i am (i was not diagnosed until my late 20s) because it affects your career and your finances when you need to take time off—so it's something you need to learn to deal with it effectively now.
posted by violetk at 4:50 AM on May 25, 2007

LarryC's initial comment was probably the opposite of funny to you, anonymous (even after reading his "kidding" note), but please don't let it bother you too much. He probably really thought he was being funny and lightening your mood.

Truly, professors have enough students that they almost never invest a whole lot emotionally in them, even those in a small class, like yours. They care, for sure, but they don't have time to hate anyone.

If the class is only 10 people, I realize that it may not be easy to reschedule it.

I know you know more about your depression than I ever could, but here are some ideas: Are you exercising? You might try making a point of going to sleep earlier, and lightly exercising just before bed (maybe with a quick shower to relax you and keep your sheets fresh). Then wake up even earlier than you're currently trying to, with something lovely planned first thing in the morning -- a leisurely breakfast with a newspaper, hot chocolate, whatever you like.

If you can withdraw from the class, great (try for later classes, next time, too -- the only class I ever failed was an 8:00 class that I wasn't particularly interested in). But if you can't, keep in mind that you are doing very well to be addressing your depression. Just keep at it; you'll get through sooner or later.
posted by amtho at 8:01 AM on May 25, 2007

I agree with everyone who's said that you need to tell your professor everything that you've written above. Most professors have seen this before.
posted by ob at 9:08 AM on May 25, 2007


being depressive absolutely does not make a person a slacker. i am a depressive and currently dealing with a major episode at t he moment. as a result, i have been able to work very little these past few months. but if you ask anyone who knows me, whether on a personal or professional level, they most certainly would not describe me as a slacker; quite the opposite actually. i am known to be a workaholic.

so to accuse the OP of being a slacker is incredibly insensitive unless you know that that how they are on a regular basis. trying to continue to do coursework rather than immediately drop out after being diagnosed with clinical depression is something i would totally try to do in the same situation because for someone with a type A personality, you still think you can do it all and find it hard to believe that you can't. a slacker would have just used the diagnosis to drop out of school because, "oh, i'm sick, i can't do anything." that is the slacker excuse.
posted by violetk at 9:21 AM on May 25, 2007

being depressive absolutely does not make a person a slacker.

Of course not. But repeatedly blowing deadlines and missing classes, not to mention outright failing to submit multiple assignments, does make a person a slacker. Being "depressed" doesn't change that.

You're demonstrating my point, so thanks: People with depression often use it as an excuse. If the OP were saying, "I'm a slacker because I'm depressed," then fine. But he's not. He's saying, "Yes, I'm slacking...but I'm depressed, so therefore I'm not a slacker." That's called denial.

It's the difference between reason and excuse, and it's relevant because the OP specifically asked how to handle the situation "without making it seem like I'm trying to take all the blame off myself." Own the mistake.
posted by cribcage at 10:04 AM on May 25, 2007

I would like to point out that the assumption that other people hate you is a form of mild paranoia--and a symptom of depression. I know it's a symptom of mine. When I think back to the times when I got very upset and overreacted to something, I realize that my main feeling was, "Why do people always do this to me", or "If people really cared about me they would notice I'm in distress", or "Obviously everyone is talking about me behind my back". No matter what originally triggered the episode.

I remember once being hugely upset that I was going to miss a good friend's wedding, crying for days, and my main feeling while I cried was, "They planned this so I'd be left out...I KNOW they did...", when this was manifestly impossible: no one knew I'd be unavailable that weekend when the wedding was being planned!

It's hard to be logical when you're depressed, but here's the logical point of all this: As someone mentioned above, your professor does not hate you, but if she did, so what? Worrying over someone you barely know hating you is the depression talking--it's not anything that logically merits worrying about. If your professor egged your car or made a crank call to your boyfriend telling him she saw you out with another guy, THEN I'd say it's time to worry about your professor hating you. (And possibly look into a restraining order.) For right now, take some of the great advice people have offered above to deal with the immediate problem: getting out of the class without ruining your GPA.
posted by gillyflower at 10:33 AM on May 25, 2007

I had the same problem as you - severe clinical depression prevented me from attending classes at my University. I dropped out which ended up being very beneficial to me (I'm transferring to a much better University). Put a hold on your education or leave college until you can get your life together enough to attend classes with regularity. Even though my depression is inherited, fixing my situation improves my health a great deal. It's better to get this fixed now while young then graduate with poor grades and have your dreams scaled down.
posted by avagoyle at 11:31 AM on May 25, 2007

cribcage, there is a difference between being a slacker and not being able to do things because one is ill. the OP is asking how to explain his/her situation to the professor—not denying his/her responsibility. slackers don't give a shit. that's what a slacker is. they avoid the work, they don't make an effort, they don't care enough to try to change the situation. the OP obviously does.
posted by violetk at 12:41 PM on May 25, 2007

Also--at my college there is an option called "academic bankruptcy." At any time in your undergraduate career you can have one entire semester completely removed from your transcript, so that overwhelming personal circumastances don't sink your GPA. Look into this.

Sorry if my joke offended and good luck.
posted by LarryC at 1:05 PM on May 25, 2007

I would second most of what's been said above, especially the advice from the current and former college instructors (LarryC, not that girl, LobsterMitten, ROU_Xenophobe).

Get a note from your doctor. It doesn't have to be awfully specific about your diagnosis and treatment, but it should describe the ways that your condition(s) can be expected to affect your performance in classes. If you are getting treatment through your campus health service, they should be well-practiced at writing this kind of note.

Check in with your academic advisor, dean, or whoever it is that should have an overview of your academic welfare and authority to sign off on things like late withdrawals. This person may also be able to put in a word for you with the professor, though it will still be a good idea for you to talk with the professor directly.

In talking with your professor, a matter-of-fact approach is the best one. Professors are not therapists; the professor does not need your life story or even a detailed account of your recent difficulties. Just state the facts: you've been having difficulties due to a documented medical problem, you want to know whether you're headed for a failing grade or not, and you need to figure out what the appropriate next step is.

If it would make you feel better, you may tell the professor that you appreciate what she has tried to do in order to help you during the term, and give a succinct apology for not following up on some of your earlier arrangements, but really, don't overdo this. One sentence, then stop. I think college instructors like to have their efforts acknowledged, but groveling just generates awkwardness.

Your options for the "next step" will depend on your school and its policies. Possible things to look at:
  • dropping the class, possibly with special medical dispensation if you have missed the usual drop deadline
  • withdrawing from the class, possibly with special medical dispensation. Does your school distinguish between "WP" and "WF" (withdrew passing/failing)? If so, this may be a point to negotiate with your professor: would you be getting a "WP" at this point, and if not, can you make a reasonable plan to get you up to "WP" level, or is it a lost cause?
  • taking an incomplete in the class; how much time you have to make up the missed work will depend on your school's policies, and whether this is a reasonable possibility will depend on your professor's assessment of what you've missed.
  • accepting a low grade in the class
Good luck. I hope you get a good solution sorted out.
posted by Orinda at 1:36 PM on May 25, 2007

Former grad school teacher here, but in art school, so it may be a different situation.

If you waited this long to deal with the situation -- didn't talk to the teacher about it when asked to speak up more, didn't show up more often, failed to turn in writing assignments you promised -- drop and retake is the only option that's fair to the other students and will get you the training and education you're paying for.

I wouldn't hate a student like that, but I wouldn't go out of my way to help someone who makes promises and then consistently doesn't deliver, particularly if they haven't clearly communicated what's going on. Get a medical excuse to withdraw after the deadline and retake the course.

My responsibility was to make sure that students who passed my class could function at a professional and functional level in the subjects I taught. As an art school, we had a number of students who came to me with social anxiety issues, depression and other personal issues. Together, we tried to find ways to allow them to demonstrate mastery of the subject while fitting into their needs.

Their ability to use coping mechanisms and find compromises that still demonstrated they could do the work and perform helped me believe they could perform at a professional level in some capacity.

You haven't found a way to meet your commitments, communicate your needs or prove you can function in the subject, so until you develop those skills that allow you to pass (which I fully appreciate are difficult, take time, take a ton of effort, make everything more of an uphill battle, but are the only way you can learn to function over time), I'm not sure what you'd expect a professor to do.

Good luck and all the best. It's not a easy situation to be in.
posted by Gucky at 6:54 PM on May 25, 2007

Oh honey. I'm in a similar boat to yours. I'm a major workaholic but a recent strong bout of depression (which I'm also getting help for) is affecting my ability to do uni work. I can still do them, but barely. It's too late to withdraw, I don't want to spend more time in uni than is necessary, but I'm so exhausted.

I've found my tutors in particular to be pretty easygoing and open when I've mentioned my issues to them. They've been flexible with work - I am allowed to email work, for instance, instead of having to go down the Assignment Minder route. One of my friends had to miss a major assignment because she was going home early to see her mum; she arranged with her tutor to do some other credit work instead. Could you discuss alternatives with your lecturer/tutor? Get some other credit work done in exchange? They may be more flexible than you think.

Good luck. You're not alone. *hugs*
posted by divabat at 4:19 PM on May 26, 2007

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